“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein.
For years, at the start of every year, two of my closest friends and I each wrote five New Year’s Resolutions and shared them between ourselves. In a bid to encourage proactivity, we tallied our success rates at the end of the year; 2 points for a resolution achieved, 1 point for semi-achieved, 0 points for doing nothing.
My score card never stretched beyond fair to middling. What’s worse is that I’d often be tempted to exaggerate my achievements to make myself feel better. I’d read 7 books out of my target of 10, but convince myself that starting a further 3 was good enough, so I’d go ahead and award myself the coveted 2 points. Who was I kidding?
I developed a predictable routine. I’d begin my year highly motivated and confident that I’d bust out all five resolutions before Easter, but then, slowly, I’d lose my way. I’d get distracted. Work and life would take over. I’d re-engage every once in a while and try to get back on the fast-escaping train, only to fall off again. Had I dared to actually think about why it wasn’t working, I’d have woken up a little earlier to a weakness of mine. I like a plan. I like to take control. It excites me. I’m less excited by the hard graft.
Or perhaps the slavish commitment to writing resolutions, despite the mounting evidence of its futility, was in fact my weakness?
This year I’m drawing a line in the sand. I’m channeling Einstein, ditching the resolutions and trying something new.
Over coffee a few weeks ago, a friend, who has retrained as a coach, recommended I take some time to visualise the future. It’s a tip she picked up after listening to a podcast by the designer Debbie Millman. The premise is simple. You pick a day … one year, five years or ten years from now and visualise it in full technicolour, specifying every tiny detail. What do you do when you first get up in the morning? How do you feel? Where are you living? Are you happy in your job? How are your kids? What are you reading? What excites you? How’s your relationship? Do you spend time on your hobbies / passions? Are you fulfilled? Answer any question you want. Your only goal is to dream big and without fear. And to write it all down.
So I tried it.
I scrawled 12 December 2019 across the top of my notepad and sat down to think. By nature, I’m a compulsive diary writer. I record facts about my day; what I’m thinking, what I’ve learnt, what my plans are. The simple act of writing down a date in the future was profoundly liberating. I was untethered and free to roam in my imagination and to challenge myself to figure out what it is I really want. As I sat there with my pen poised, the penny dropped. 12 December 2019 is up to me. It’s in my hands.
I scribbled pages and pages and got completely lost in the process. And then I read what I had written and my first thought was, wow, I know more about what I want than I thought I did and the second was, wow, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could make that happen.
From where I’m sitting, (in the warm glow of possibility that the impending New Year brings) I’m feeling hopeful. I’m taking encouragement from Millman. She says she is regularly contacted by past students, who completed the exercise with her years ago, and have achieved every one of the dreams that they wrote down.
Leafing through Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People the other day, it’s clear that he and Millman are on the same page. He encourages his readers to “begin with the end in mind.” He points out that no-one in their right mind would build a house without visualising every detail first and designing a full architectural plan, so why do we persist in ploughing through our lives without visualising the future? “The more exact and realistic the mental picture of the action is, the better its execution will be – and, hence, the better the results”.
It makes sense.
I’ll report back on 12 December 2019.
And just one wish. Please, Menieres, give me a break in 2019. I’d appreciate it. A lot.